OverDrive founder and CEO Steve Potash remembers the moment clearly. It was early March and he was in Michigan, sitting down to lunch with Lance Werner, director of the Kent District Libraries. “Lance says to me, ‘Steve, on Monday I’m closing my 20 branches,’ ” Potash recalls. “When I got back to my office, I got the team together and I said, ‘This is going to be happening everywhere.’ And we now have to get as many no-cost, simultaneous-access e-books into as many libraries as we can.”
OverDrive has donated more than 6.6 million units to libraries and schools since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. And the company’s efforts have extended beyond the pandemic. After the killing of George Floyd sparked a nationwide social and racial justice movement, OverDrive went to work again. The company’s Black Lives Matter: Community Read program put together a collection of digital resources available to patrons with no holds list and to libraries at no cost.
“After George Floyd, we knew we needed to do a community read,” Potash said. “We’ve had pretty good support from publishers. We were able to negotiate and we got some good donations. But I said to my CFO and the team at the start, ‘Look, we’re going to be writing some checks. Let’s just try to get the best deal so everyone who needs these books can get them.’ ”
Potash is quick to credit the staff at OverDrive for their hard work, and he acknowledges that the past year hasn’t been easy on them. “We have an amazing team here,” he says. “The fact that we were on short notice able to take 400 dedicated passionate folks on this mission, many working remotely—it’s been a lot of stress and some burnout. It was a challenge, because we want to deliver. Whatever the challenges are, we always want to find a way to deliver. I’m proud of the results.”
For the past two decades, librarians have come to know Potash as a vocal advocate for digital content in libraries. And while it would be easy to say his advocacy is driven by business interests, those who know Potash know his passion for libraries, schools, and the cause of literacy is real, and very personal. Over the course of what has been a historically challenging year, library directors have consistently told PW that Potash has personally reached out to them. And the common question for each of these directors has been, what do you need?
Potash confirms that he has spoken to the majority of the executive directors in all of the major metropolitan library systems over the last few months, as well as state librarians and consortium leaders. “I try to be a good listener,” he says. “And I’m just so thankful that we can play a role.”